Vaccine Exemptions: How Hospitals Violate Workers’ Rights

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Vaccine Exemptions

by Alan Phillips, J.D. Attorney and Counselor at Law

Following swine flu emergency declarations in 11 states, Washington D.C., American Samoa and the entire U.S. in 2009, hospitals around the country began implementing new flu vaccine mandates for their employees. Healthcare workers who worked for decades without getting vaccinated were suddenly required to choose between getting vaccinated and getting fired. Some observed that it was the workers vaccinated in prior years that most often took sick leave each winter to recover from flu-like illnesses. Nevertheless, since the so-called pandemic,[1] hospitals have increasingly been adding vaccine requirements. And the pro-vaccine push hasn’t stopped there; in more recent months, entirely new categories of employees have been facing new vaccine requirements including airline employees, pharmacists, and hospital sales reps. Ultimately, all workers and adults may be required to get vaccines as the rapidly advancing vaccine pharmaceutical agenda continues to roll forward ignoring science and liberty.

Presently, immunization laws and policies for healthcare workers vary widely from state to state and from hospital to hospital. According to the CDC, some states have statutory vaccination requirements for healthcare employees, some have only recommendations, some have requirements and recommendations, and about 20 have no requirements or recommendation at all, leaving the matter entirely to hospital policy.[2] Of the 12 states that require one or more vaccines, only six offer a medical exemption, two offer medical and religious (Maryland and New Hampshire), and one offers medical, religious and philosophical (Maine). So, where employer-required vaccines are concerned, most healthcare workers are dealing with hospital policy only or a mixture of policy and state law. However, state exemption laws for healthcare workers may only apply to state-mandated vaccines, so even if there is an exemption law in your state, it may not help you avoid hospital-required vaccines.

Where state exemption laws are non-existent or don’t apply, hospital employees are left with indirect legal arguments to support the right to legally refuse vaccines in the workplace without penalty. Here’s an overview of one approach:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination of employees covered by the Act on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.[3] With regard to religion, employers must reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs unless it would cause an undue hardship (what potentially qualifies for a religious exemption is quite broad, but there are also legal pitfalls to avoid [4]). However, since Title VII does not specifically mention healthcare employees and vaccines, we have to look to legal precedent to get a definitive legal answer to the question of whether or not—and if so, how—Title VII applies to this specific situation. Unfortunately, there appears to be no legal precedent on this specific situation. So, we must assess the strength of the legal arguments for and against an employee’s right to refuse vaccines in the workplace for religious reasons under Title VII. For starters, don’t worry if you’re not a member of a church with tenets opposed to immunizations. First Amendment protection of the "free exercise" of religion is broad—virtually anyone who is not an atheist can potentially qualify for a vaccine religious exemption. There are legal pitfalls to avoid, however, so those serious about avoiding vaccines in the workplace for religious reasons should consult an attorney experienced with vaccine exemptions and waivers.

When assessing whether or not hospitals can "reasonably accommodate" their employees’ religious beliefs, we could examine the herd immunity theory (all are protected if most are immune) vs. the heightened infectious disease concerns in hospitals, but since there are hospitals around the country with Title VII policies allowing employees to refuse vaccines for religious reasons, the hospital environment may be a secondary concern. That is, if there are hospitals around the country already accommodating employees’ religious objections to immunizations, then clearly hospitals generally can do so. In fact, the federal government recognizes the right to a workers’ Title VII exemption for pandemic vaccines during a declared pandemic.[5] So, if a hospital refuses to accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs by refusing all vaccine religious exemptions, they are confessing, in effect, that infectious disease is a greater concern for them than for other hospitals that do allow Title VII exemptions. Of course, few if any hospitals would argue that as their reason for rejecting of religious exemptions generally. But some do reject all religious exemptions, so perhaps there’s another reason. (Did I just hear someone say: "Follow the money"?)

Sadly, there’s a more insidious aspect to this arena. The reality is, many hospital employees are "at will" employees. They can’t be fired for an unlawful reason, but they can be fired for "no reason" at any time. So, if a healthcare worker is denied an exemption and successfully sues their employer under Title VII, they may get their job back, but most could also be terminated shortly thereafter for "no reason." So, the bottom line is that some hospitals get away with violating their employees’ rights, because they can, and not because they have a good-faith legal argument favoring their pro-vaccine position. Those employees whose employer takes a hard line "so sue me" position may not have much of a choice; they can either get the vaccines, or start a formal proceeding by filing a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).[6]

Fortunately for now, the majority of hospitals appear to recognize a Title VII right for their employees to refuse vaccines for religious reasons, and most of my healthcare worker clients have been successful in refusing vaccines without losing their jobs. As long as you avoid the legal pitfalls and your employer doesn’t have a "no religious exemptions" policy, there’s a good chance of success. If your beliefs qualify under the law and you are rejected, then you have a good chance of succeeding with an EEOC complaint or lawsuit if that is ultimately needed.

If you are a healthcare worker or other employee being required to get vaccines against your will, the first step is to find out what your employer’s exemption policy is. It’s wise not to talk about what your religion is or what your religious beliefs are, or to submit anything about your religious beliefs in writing before finding out what their policy is and precisely what beliefs do and don’t qualify, legally, for a religious exemption. Unfortunately, this is an arena where a common sense approach can cost you the exemption. What many people think should qualify as a religious objection often doesn’t. For example, copied belief statements can be rejected as insincere, so copying from anti-vaccine websites is risky. These websites mean well, and I mean no disrespect, but they don’t understand the law. People have needlessly lost exemption rights by relying on anti-vaccine websites in the exercise of vaccine religious exemptions.[7]

If your employer has an overly strict policy—e.g., requires membership in an organized religion or support from a religious leader—they are, in my professional opinion, overstepping their legal boundaries. You may need an attorney to explain your rights to your employer, and to cite the legal precedent that supports the position that you have the right to refuse without having the support of a religious leader or belonging to any particular religious organization. If they have a lenient policy and ask only for a statement of your beliefs, that’s better, but you should still consider consulting an attorney to avoid the legal pitfalls, as this is one arena where your beliefs are likely to be closely scrutinized for flaws that would cause them to reject you.

Disturbingly, some hospitals have even rejected a medical doctor’s recommendation that an employee not be vaccinated. The best long-term solution, then, may be for all concerned to become legislatively active, for us to educate our representatives about the true risks and failings of vaccines and the many better and safer means of addressing infectious disease concerns. We need new laws that allow informed choice, require transparency of all conflicts of interest, and that require prosecution of documented corruption. I’m happy to help activists anywhere in the U.S. with any pro-informed-choice vaccine legislative initiatives. For a list of some of the legislative projects I’ve worked on so far, see Vaccine Rights: Legislative Projects: I’m also available to assist individuals with understanding and exercising their rights wherever vaccines are concerned.

[1] Which we now know was a fake pandemic. For documented details, see the Swine Flu Review at



[4] Federal legal precedent tells us that the First Amendment requires only a belief opposed to immunizations that is religious in nature and sincerely held.

[5] May an employer covered by the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 compel all of it employees to take the influenza vaccine regardless of their medical conditions or their religious beliefs during a pandemic?

[6] If an employer rejects an employee’s request for religious accommodation, the employee must first file a complaint with the EEOC before they can sue the employer. See U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Filing a Charge of Discrimination,

[7] Some people have been successful with school exemptions by copying from anti-vaccine websites, probably because some state school exemption laws do not allow the state to scrutinize exemption claims. But in those states and federal contexts where beliefs can be scrutinized, copying is risky, because it can cost you the exemption.

Related Articles by Alan Phillips, J.D. "Vaccine Exemptions: Do They Really Put Others at Risk?"

For additional related research on read "The Shocking LACK of Evidence Supporting Flu Vaccines," wherein is referenced a 2010 Cochrane Database Review on the proven lack of effectiveness of vaccinating healthcare workers for influenza to protect their elderly patients, and peruse our Vaccine Research Database which focuses on collating data from the National Library of Medicine on the underreported, adverse effects of vaccines.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
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